Workers expect defined contributions to carry them through retirement, but anxiety remains

Defined contribution plans like 401(k)’s are seen as a critical retirement financing vehicle, but many employees feel they still won’t have enough money to last a full retirement

Workers broadly expect their defined contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, to be their primary source of cash when they retire. However, many workers maintain a high level of anxiety about having enough cash to last a full retirement, according to new data from human resources company Buck.

“While many employees (79%) are satisfied with their retirement benefits, they don’t necessarily believe their savings will prove adequate and 76% have increased concerns about their capacity to save for retirement given the unstable economy,” the findings read. “More than a third (35%) of employees cited the rising cost of living expenses as the top impediment to saving, followed by personal debt (20%) and family obligations (11%).”

There is also a disconnect between the competitiveness of retirement packages offered by employers between dedicated human resources professionals and workers, with 91% of HR professionals believing their companies are competitive with such benefits while 61% of employees believe “they could find a better package with a different employer.”

“With rising inflation, it’s not surprising that employees are concerned about their ability to save for retirement and this, in turn, is reflected in the perceived value of employer-sponsored retirement plans,” said Tonya Manning, U.S. wealth practice leader and chief wealth actuary at Buck. “[Defined contribution] plans have evolved to become the primary retirement savings vehicle for Americans, and for plan sponsors, the challenge is how to help participants reach their savings goals.”

Employees also remain far more focused on their immediate financial needs as opposed to thinking ahead to retirement, as more than half (53%) of employees preferred a $500 pay increase over a $500 increase being applied to retirement plan contributions.

Workers also report that despite legislative changes to retirement plans in the U.S., many have not noticed any discernible change to their own retirement plans over the past two years. But employers do have plans in motion, according to the survey.

“[Fifty-seven percent] of employers offer, or plan to offer, matching retirement contributions for student loan payments, a provision included in the recent SECURE 2.0 legislation,” the results explained. “This would be a popular move as 57% of employees would like to see this enhancement.”

In terms of survey methodology, Buck “commissioned an independent research firm to survey benefits-eligible employees and HR and benefits professionals who administer retirement plans, allowing for a comparison of similarities and differences between employee and employer responses,” the results said.

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